Monday, May 25, 2015

Natchez Trace Parkway

Back in 2012 I was on a lengthy motorcycle tour and had planned to ride the Natchez Trace Parkway near the back end of the 12,500 mile journey. The Trace is a nicely paved parkway that runs 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, with a small stretch in Alabama.

Essentially, the Trace is a scenic roadway that was built by the National Parks Service to track (.. or Trace ..) a historical trail that had been regularly used by Native Americans and Early Settlers over a period of nearly 10,000 years. There are many historically significant stops along the Trace, no commercial traffic allowed and a 50 mph speed limit it's entire length.

Unfortunately, I had to cut the Trace out of my 2012 travels when my legs started to give out after 36 days in the saddle. Two years later I decided to pick it up on the back end of my recent North Carolina trip, this time riding it from the Northern point in Nashville down to Natchez.

After the North Carolina rides, I took the fast route from Waynesville, North Carolina over to south Nashville to pick up the trace. Since it was only a 4 hour trek, I decide to start my ride down the Trace, making it as far as Tupello, Mississippi.

The roads were amazingly clean and the traffic was mostly minimal. I ran the road at mostly 55 mph which was a nice pace to enjoy both the road and the scenery.

During my North Carolina trip the previous week, I'd spent a half day on the Indian Reservation in Cherokee. While disappointed with the commercialization in Cherokee, I found a tremendous level of Native American Culture along the Trace. I particularly enjoyed stopping at each of the Indian Burial Mounds.

There were also countless natural streams and rivers.

If you're not in a hurry, the Natchez Trace Parkway is a nice two-day ride that covers a good distance. It could take longer if you stop at everything there is to see along the way or shorter if you just want to knock out miles without all the hassle on the highways. It certainly was a great way to wrap the loop on this trip that included seven states and almost 3,000 total miles. I'll likely ride the Trace again someday.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Puig Pro Frame Sliders

I'd previously installed a set of Puig Pro Frame Sliders on my 2012 Versys 650. I picked the Pro Frames over many alternatives because they are securely frame mounted and unobtrusive. In other words, they seemed to look like part of the bike. I was glad to have the sliders installed when my son dropped the little Versys in the parking lot at school. Not a scratch was incurred on the cowl or shell. However, the brake lever got bent and required replacement and the right rear passenger handle took a scrape.

Naturally, I wanted to purchase a set of the Puig Pro Frame Sliders for my new 2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT. At first I found that they weren't available in the States. Then I got a tip that Revzilla had one set, but it wasn't showing up in the Garage Fitment List although the listing said it fit the 2015V1. So I jumped on it. Perfect deal considering I had $20 of Zilla Cash from my some previous purchases.

The part number is Puig 7071N, black with grey end pads. It did fit the 2015 Versys 1000. Here are some photos of the packaging and what comes in the packaging.

Installation of the slider requires replacement of the Lower Engine Bracket Bolts with 8MM allen bolts provided in the kit. Tool requirements are:

  • 14 mm socket and socket wrench with 3" extension to remove the stock Lower Engine Bracket Bolts.
  • 8 mm ratchet allen head and torque wrench.
  • 17mm open ended wrench.
  • Blue Thread Lock.

Installation requires removal of the Lower Engine Bracket Bolts.

The engine bracket bolts are replaced by the 8mm Allen Bolts provided in the kit. The torque spec provided in the Service Manual for the bracket bolts is 45NM or 33FT/LB. Since the bolt is an Engine-to-Frame bolt, thread lock is in order. I used blue Permatex.

Installation does not require removal of any fairing or other parts. The only issue is the routing of the clutch cable on the right side. I routed it over the top of the slider bracket but underneath the slider pad as shown in the next photo. Routing it underneath the slider bracket was doable, but it seemed to put a crimp on the cable.

Stepping back a little, you can see how unobtrusive the Puig Sliders are.

The sliders project 5-1/2 inches outward from the frame to which they're mounted to. While somewhat of an illusion in the photo, the sliders actually extend out to near the tips of the signal lights. The illusion is caused by the signal lights being forward of the sliders; i.e. closer to the camera than the sliders.

The price of the Pro Frame Sliders is $170 and, as mentioned, I had $20 of Zilla credits to knock that down to $150 (free shipping). There are cheaper alternatives, but these Pro Frame Sliders have proved their performance on a previous motorcycle and they're very unobtrusive compared to the alternatives. Overall, I'm glad to have them. I hope I don't need to give a report on how they worked in a tip, fall, or worse, crash.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dragon 2015

I'm just wrapping up a week-long, seven state, three-thousand mile motorcycle trip. The first day of my trip was a painful 565 mile trek from Tampa, Florida, through Georgia, to Walhalla, South Carolina. When riding in North Carolina and East Tennessee, I usually go to Walhalla first  because it's strategically located to pickup US Highway 28, better known as Moonshiner28, one of the best, curvy and scenic 100+ mile riding roads in the Southeast. In addition, Moonshiner28 runs directly into the beginning of the Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap.

The Dragon is only a small part of this day-long, 225 mile ride that also includes the Foothills Parkway and part of the Blue Ridge Parkway. In fact, the Dragon only makes up 11 miles of this route somewhere in the middle of this great day of riding.

Before you get to the Dragon, there are a number of great places to stop along the Moonshiner. One is the Bridal Veil Falls, that's just 35 miles out from Walhalla... say nothing of the green forests, mountains, streams and lakes.

Hanging around the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort is a good time, checking out the bikes and talking with the other riders before heading out on the Dragon.

Killboy photo...

And, of course, gotta get the Dragon sticker!

I'll have more information on my trip in later posts. Stay tuned!

TomTom Rider Update 3

There's no better way to put a SatNav device to the test than a good long trip. As of yesterday, I just completed a week-long, 2,977 mile trip to North Carolina >Tennessee>Mississippi>New Orleans>Alabama. I used most all of the functions of the TomTom Rider on this trip and it did most everything that I expected of it.

The initial comment is that the TomTom Rider mechanically operated perfectly. I had no loose screws, the mount stayed firm, and the rain rolled off the device without an issue. Nothing cracked, nothing broke. I will mention that I put a plastic baggie over the docking cradle when the Rider was not installed, such as in the evenings. I did this because the electrical connections are exposed on the docking cradle when the Rider is not installed. I have no reason to believe, or knowledge, that moisture would cause a problem, but covered it in basically exercising an abundance of caution.

This particular journey required a lot of Interstate and highway travel. One feature of the TomTom that was really quite nice as you move from highway to highway is the Lane Guidance Option. I'd previously gave this feature a bum-rap in an early post but didn't really understand it's function until this trip. I was under the impression that the lane guidance was solely reflected in the navigation information bar, center bottom. However, the lane guidance is predominantly featured in the actual map as you approach a changes that require one or more lane choices. As you roll into the lane change the map itself changes to reflect a closeup view of the lanes and flashing green arrows to indicate where you need to be. I need to admit that this was a pretty decent little feature when navigating highways through the likes of Atlanta and Nashville.

I did experience some recurring glitches that I'm getting a better sense for. The first is the use of installed maps that are drafted on the Tyre Software (discussed in an earlier post). I have become a big fan of the Tyre Software; it's made drafting routes very simple. However, I've had a few observations when actually following the route along the lines that either the route seems to point you to places that you can't go or don't want to go.

By way of background, the Tyre Software is loaded on your computer and helps you to create routes by navigating you between waypoints that you select. Once you create the route via waypoints, you can download the waypoints onto your Rider with a single click. Think of waypoints as nothing more than points on a map, like thumb-tacks on a paper map hung on the wall. Once you place those tacks on the map, the software chooses the roads to navigate you from waypoint (thumb-tack), to waypoint (thumb-tack) to waypoint (thumb-tack). You can have two waypoints in one map (Plan Route function on main screen) or multiple waypoints in one map (My Itineraries Function on main screen).

The waypoints, now loaded on your TomTom Rider, are the basis that the TomTom chooses the roads and highways to navigate between waypoints. It very well could select different roads than you saw when creating the route in the Tyre Software on your computer. However, it does give you an opportunity to both review the route, listed as road-by-road, and/or visually watch the track being navigated by your icon (little motorcycle) on the screen of your device.

Now, not to confuse the situation any more than I already have, when you build your route in Tyre, you can simply give it an address and tell it to make that address a waypoint. I did just that when creating an route from my hotel in North Carolina to a Vintage Motorcycle Museum that I wanted to visit in a nearby town ... then I continued that route on to do a ride loop. The address was the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, NC.

Below is a screen shot of the partial Tyre-to-Travel route from my computer (in Blue) leading to the museum address (physical address=red pin = waypoint). I have added the red lines to show where the Rider navigated me and, as you can see, those roads are dead ends. This navigation is nothing short of an error and I don't know what gives rise to it. Fortunately, I've been to the museum before and know where it was. However, I rode up those two roads (red lined) to see if TomTom had a kewl short-cut for me ... not the case.

I don't know why the TomTom sent me down obvious dead ends but that wasn't the only glitch. On a couple occasions, including this and some previous trips, I've noted the nav line tracking on the TomTom map (reflected as a blue line along the center of the road) just turn off into nowhere. For example, on this trip I was riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the nav line left the road altogether into the mountainside. I could see the nav line on the screen off in the distance. Eventually, the TomTom recalculated the nav line back to the road. This particular case is obvious because there are no other roads. I've had this happen when there are other roads around and you get sort of tricked into leaving the correct navigation route ... at which point the TomTom recomputes and puts you back on the correct road and you go, "wtf just happened?"

Now, having written up these navigation glitches I don't want to give the impressing that there are serious problems present. On the contrary, with well over 4,000 miles on the TomTom at present, I'd say these navigation glitches are pretty minor and have been few and far between.

One area that does seem to be a problem, in my view, is the speed limit indicator (shows as max speed). Like most SatNavs the TomTom Rider reflects the legal speed limit and the actual speed being traveled. The TomTom reflects the correct speed being traveled. However, at this point, I can tell you that the legal speed limits it reflects are more often wrong than they are right. This raises a couple problems. First, over the years of SatNav use I've found myself getting comfortable using these navigation devices for speed limits and actual speeds being traveled. I'm back to taking account of road signs now for speed limits. Sure, I can do that. However, I thought I purchased a device with that feature on a screen in front of me. Apparently not. Second, I believe the design of maps/routes is, to some degree, predicated on legal speed limits. Certainly, the legal speed limits must be considered when determining the "Fasted Route" among other things. If the legal speed limits are wrong, then the integrity of the routing feature must be impaired. Of course, I'm speculating. Bottom line, I never had an issue with this feature on my prior Garmins. TomTom should look into this.

Even though we have a few not-so-great points in this post, overall I continue to be pleased with the performance of the TomTom Rider. It's a rugged little device that has proven much more user friendly than other brands/models that I've used. It's really done everything that I need done both locally and out on the roads.

Previous posts on the TomTom Rider Review are below:

TomTom Rider

TomTom Rider Update 1

TomTom Rider Update 2

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Route 66

While pondering some potential future travel plans, I tripped over a map in Mad Maps for Route 66 that runs 2,400 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles. I have several Mad Maps and have always found them useful. "What the heck," I thought, it may make for a nice Summer trip, and ordered the Map for $16.95.

The above photo isn't from Mad Maps. It's just a stock photo I found  and presented to show you the overall route. Mad Maps are always very nice quality. They provide travel directions, road houses/restaurants and information about roadside attractions along the way. Same, of course, for the Route 66 Map that I received.

What I initially found interesting and quite surprising about the Route 66 Mad Map is that the travel directions were extremely long and complicated. Lots and lots of turns and lots and lots of very short directional instructions! I suppose I was being a little naive here, but I was thinking the whole trip was going to be like one road (as in, Route 66) all the way. Apparently that's not the case anymore. :)

The Mad Map actually subdivides Route 66 into five legs starting in Chicago and ending in Santa Monica, effectively breaking down the entire route into manageable sections of travel directions and attractions.

  • The 1st leg of the map covers 320 miles from Chicago to St. Louis and includes 91 directional instructions. A directional instruction is simply an instruction to make a turn or keep a bearing, as in turn right or turn left or bear right or bear left. The suggested time on this leg, which I believe includes estimated time stopping at attractions and roadhouses is 1-2 days.
  • The 2nd leg of the map covers 423 miles from St. Louis to Tulsa and includes 78 directional instructions. The estimated time is 1-2 days.
  • The 3rd leg of the map covers 688 miles from Tulsa to Santa Fe and includes 110 directional instructions. The estimated time is 2-3 days.
  • The 4th leg of the map covers 813 miles from Santa Fe to Barstow, CA and includes 66 directional instructions. The estimated time is 2-3 days.
  • The 5th leg of the map covers 158 miles from Barstow, CA to Santa Monica and includes 26 directional instructions. The estimated time is 1 day.

Crikey! That's 371 turns and up to 11 day to cover 2,402 miles. Dang, what the heck happened to Route 66?

Well, it is what it is, and after taking a step back and studying this whole touring prospect I've got to say that Mad Maps really did a kickass job putting their map together considering all the changes that have apparently been made along the route over the decades. It really must have required a ton of work and required a lot of time.

So the question is, do I want to take it on? I've got 11 or more days to throw at a trip like this and I can take on 2,400 miles (plus all the miles to and from) without a thought; done that many times. The issue is that I'm not really enamored with all the short directional instructions that I'm seeing in the route that now makes up Route 66. I'm referring to routes that are full of little short <1.0 mile roads. I could go crazy on a touring bike following routes like that. In some instances, there are so many directional instructions that I'd clearly have to build a route in my GPS to follow. I wonder if my GPS would even hold that much data.

Seriously, I like the idea of riding the length of Route 66. I could pick up two states that I've never ridden in (Oklahoma and California). Plus, the last time I was out in Arizona on my bike I regrettably missed my chance to visit Meteor Crater near Flagstaff. I'd always planned to go back and it's actually an attraction in the Mad Map.

Well, I just don't know. I invested $16.95 in the map so I think I owe it to myself to at least give it some serious thought. I'll let you know....

Something Different

I'd like to introduce you to another of my motorcycle-related hobbies that I highly recommend if you have the time. I restore or refurbish vintage (pre-1976) motocross and enduro motorcycles that I find going to swap meets or on Craigslist or other sources ("barn finds" as we call them). I generally stick to vintage motocross/enduro  models because these were the types of motorcycles that I owned (or dreamed of owning) and raced when I was a kid growing up in downstate New York. In addition, these motorcycles are really easy to work on and with few exceptions I've always been able to find the parts. Plus, finding the parts is part of the fun.

What I typically do is look for basket cases that have as much of the original part stock as possible ... as well as some potential. You have to get these cases at the rock bottom price. Of course, everyone thinks their junk is collectible and worth a lot of money, but the reality is that you could take a total loss on a project like this if there's a fatal flaw. I mean, think about it ... the bike is in the state it's in because there is something wrong with it that likely originated decades ago ... and you have to find it!

I'm just wrapping the first phase of work on one of these old timers. It's a 1972 Yamaha LT2 100 that I paid about $100 for iirc. It was a Craigslist listing that said they had all the parts (many in a box) that turned out mostly accurate. The overall condition was extremely poor ... top end dismantled, stator exposed to the elements, and lots of rust from decades of outdoor exposure. This particular model and its condition didn't warrant any serious restoration work; there's not too much value in it, maybe $800 to $1000 in running condition. So the plan was to get it running and see what I could make of it without spending more than it was worth.

Here are some photos of what I started with:

The main thing I do before anything else is get the motorcycle running. Putting a nickel of money or an ounce of effort in a non-running motorcycle (other than getting it running) is a waste.

There's a simple formula that I follow in getting one of these bikes running. Stick to the elements of this formula and tackle them one at a time:

Air + Fuel + Fire = Combustion

Obviously in this instance the top end required rebuild. In rebuilding the top end I believe that I uncovered what caused the original breakdown. What I found was damage to the intake port in the jug that caused a very minor metal fragment to project inside the cylinder wall; hard to find until you run the piston/rings through it by hand and see where and how it's getting hung up. I was able to hone that out along with the rest of the jug and use a fresh stock/standard piston and ring set that I purchased off eBay.

Now the next question is how did that damage happen?

You do not want to fix something only to have the condition that caused the breakage to reoccur. In this case I can not be sure, but I have a hypothesis. These old enduros had 2-stroke with an oil pump to present oil into the jug behind the carburetor. In general, these pumps operated just fine, but improper maintenance rendered them inoperable. Most people didn't know that if you let the oil reservoir run dry, the pump had to be bled and primed or it wouldn't pump the oil. I'll bet that's exactly what happened because I got the oil pump working with little effort. This is the oil pump as it's situated behind a cover in the right side of the case:

I was getting some fits and spurts from the carburetor. It really didn't seem to dirty inside but I cleaned it pretty good, including an overnight soaking in acetone, and installed a Keyster Carb Kit. When I ultimately did get the bike running, I couldn't keep it running without the choke on. Round and round on the carb before looking elsewhere. Long story short is that I replaced the reed valves and then the whole reed valve block in the intake manifold and it started to operate fine for me.

Other than that, I spent a lot of time getting the stator back in working condition after being exposed for decades and the clutch seemed to come back to life with some fresh friction plates.

At that point, the motor went back in the frame and after a lot of tinkering around I got here going vroom pretty good.

The next step was cosmetics. As previously mentioned, the little bike doesn't have a great deal of value, so a full-blown restoration isn't an option. A full blown restoration would be either sourcing or restoring severely damaged/rusted/pitted parts, powdercoating applications such as the frame, replacing wheels and some nice paint. For example, both the cylinder head and jug have a cracked fin. In a full restoration, those would need replacement. In a simple garage restoration, if the part works (and ain't dangerous) = it'll be fine.

First was tackling the engine. I have a hand-held, Harbor Freight bead blaster that I use for cleaning and surface prep. Makes a huge mess, but does a decent job. Sometimes I can get cast aluminum surfaces to look really nice and be done with it; not the case here (no pun intended). I learned a long time ago that black paint covers a lot of scratches/dents/imperfections, so the case and jug got black and the cylinder head got painted aluminum (both high heat grade paint).

(see that broken fin? ^^ ugh)

From there it was part by part by part. First the part was studied to see if it would survive then it was blasted or sanded or whatever. Many of the parts were extremely rusted and pitted but overall I think I get the better end of the deal. Soft parts like brake pads, cables, harness, seat pad/cover made the cut. Tires had tread but had rotted so those were replaced and some new tubes were installed. Most all hard parts were able to be cleaned or blasted and painted. However, the spokes seemed a little too far deteriorated so I relaced the front and rear with new NOS spokes and nipples. While the wheels themselves were a cosmetic mess, they were solid ... remember my comment about black paint hiding all that? I painted the wheels black.

Another hard-to-refurbish hard-part was the shocks. Many years ago I purchased a spring depressor that makes disassembly easier, but they're still a bear to work on, especially in this condition.

All said and done, here's what the 1972 Yamaha LT2 looks like after I'm done. Beginning to end is about three and a half months. Actually I have a few connections to fix on the wiring harness and I need to find a 6v horn. However, it came out ... well, let's say ... respectable. Respectable from the stand point that the bike was brought back to life from the grave and will hopefully provide somebody some fun afternoons riding around in the Florida Sun.